It isn’t everyday, that you get to experience emotional moments. As an ICU nurse, I am exposed to emotions on a daily basis, and yet, I can go for days without showing or feeling anything towards my patients or my surroundings. Some days, I feel very separate from my patients – most of which have altered levels of consciousness from disease processes or drugs, and multiple tubes impeding them from speaking. Weeks can pass where I have one-sided conversations only.
This week, though, I eavesdropped on a conversation that brought a few little tears to my eyes and a clump to my throat. My patient had a visitor – his first in the two days I had been his nurse. He and I had minimal communication — he was on the ventilator, and beyond that, he had been involved in a hit-and-run accident five years ago that left him with many deficits. The best he could do to communicate was open his eyes, and he did that very little.
The visitor was his niece, and she brought with her the newspaper from that morning. She started by telling him the date and the time, and then proceeded to inform him that Barack Obama had accepted the democratic nomination on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech the night before. “We’re gonna do it, uncle,” she said with excitment. His eyes opened, and she went on to tell him about Joe Biden, and Obama’s powerful speech at the convention.
I have no idea how much he understood or didn’t. But, as I listened and watched from the door, I thought to myself of how outstanding Obama’s reach is — that his words and person traveled from the convention in Denver, all the way to the bedside of a nameless man who can only open his eyes.
I’m not sure which was more valuable to me then – to be a nurse – or to be a witness to the spread of hope and change that Obama has started in this country.